Blatter.The field in the race to host the World Cup in 2018 has narrowed slightly over the past few days.
Firstly, FIFA President Sepp Blatter hinted that the sport’s governing body is moving towards changing the rules to ensure the next-but-one World Cup will take place in Europe, a rumour confirmed by the Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kelso today.
An all-European field for 2018 of England, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands and Russia would in turn make 2022 a fascinating global scrap between football’s new frontiers, with the USA taking on Japan, Qatar, Australia, Indonesia and South Korea.
The bookies have consistently ranked England as favourites for 2018 with Spain/Portugal in second place and Australia in third, so an Antipodean Togel Hongkong withdrawal would bump Russia up into contention behind the Western Europeans. The Russians, like Australia, are spending generously on their candidature, but are yet to win over the lion’s share of FIFA’s 24-man Executive Committee, who will make the final decision.
The Iberian bid’s has the influence of FIFA Vice-President Angel Maria Villa Llona to count on, while the outsiders have finally given their bid a kick-start by bringing some big names on board.
Ruud Gullit has been named the President of the Dutch/Belgian bid, which has finally enlisted the notoriously single-minded Johann Cruyff, alongside a litany of low countries legends including Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Johann Neeskens, Enzo Scifo, Rene van de Kerkhof, Paul van Himst, Hans van Breukelen and Ronald Koeman.
I doubt they can win the hosting rights, but their bidding team could sure as hell beat any of the others at football.
The hosting rights for 2018 will be decided in December of this year.
Arnold makes Mariners move
Graham Arnold’s decade-long involvement with the Australian national team will end after this year’s World Cup finals after he accepted the opportunity to return to club management with the A-League’s Central Coast Mariners.
After becoming assistant coach to Frank Farina in 2000 and spending an unhappy 18-month spell in caretaker charge of the Socceroos, the Mariners job will be Arnold’s first full-time domestic managerial responsibility when he replaces Lawrie McKinna next season.
Arnold, who is contracted to the Central Coast until 2013, previously spent almost three seasons as the player/manager of Northern Spirit in the former national league after ending his playing career.
He holds an ‘A’ coaching licence and is studying towards his FFA pro coaching licence, the highest level in Australia, making the 47-year-old Sydneysider one of the most qualified coaches in the country. He was also in charge of the under-23s’ campaign for the Beijing Olympics.
Yet questions have persisted about his suitability to managing senior professionals after a chequered 15-match stint in charge of the Socceroos between Guus Hiddink leaving after the 2006 World Cup and Pim Verbeek arriving.
Despite suffering an embarrassing defeat by lowly Kuwait in only his second game in charge, Arnold turned a caretaker role into a full-time position after his first six months in the job. But he was only ever thought to be babysitting the team and failed to convince in the 2007 Asian Cup as Australia lost a quarter-final meeting with Japan on penalties.
The Socceroos were considered by some pre-tournament favourites in their maiden competitive foray in the AFC. But they were handed a shock loss by eventual champions Iraq in the group stage, after which Arnold publicly criticised his senior players’ commitment and refused to accept any blame for the defeat.
His 15 matches in sole charge yielded five defeats excluding that penalty shootout loss to Japan.
When Verbeek was hired in early 2008, Arnold reverted back to his role as one of the Dutchman’s two assistants in addition to his running of the Olyroos campaign leading into the Beijing Olympics.
However, he also came under fire for his management of the under-23s, especially after some startling omissions from the final squad – including Nathan Burns, Bruce Djite, Dario Vidosic and David Williams – pre-empted a first round exit.
Despite all Arnold’s national team baggage, Verbeek maintained the Mariners were “very fortunate” to have him as coach and that the players “will benefit greatly from his knowledge and experience”.
Arnold certainly has a wide contacts list after spending a large chunk of the past 18 months rendezvousing with European-based players on behalf of Verbeek and it will come as little surprise if a handful of his former under-23s return from Europe next season.
What’s certain he’ll oversee some widespread changes of a playing roster among the most consistent in the league. Indeed, even before the current A-League season has finished, Socceroos defender Dean Heffernan has committed to joining new franchise Melbourne Heart next season while Nigel Boogaard is off to Adelaide and second string goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne to Brisbane.
The club’s management reshuffle was announced after the Mariners’ finals hopes were extinguished in Perth but it has been a long time in the making.
McKinna made it clear he wanted to step back from the day-to-day responsibility of the team and heartily endorsed Arnold as his successor. The foundation club were inaugural premiers and twice grand finalists under McKinna, but missed the playoffs for the first time this year, that after a humbling AFC Champions League campaign in 2009.